FIRED FROM KPFK FOR SPEAKING OUT
I have a been a producer, host, and correspondent for KPFK and Pacifica for seven years. I have covered virtually every type of story that has occurred, including on location coverage of the RNC as well as other national political conventions, and I was the Network’s field correspondent in Iraq – just prior to and during the start of the Iraq war. I also later returned to the region to cover continuing US military and political policy in the region. I host an afternoon drive-time show called Beneath the Surface. I was hosting the show at 5pm, Wednesday through Friday, regularly, sometimes more often, and usually 5 days a week during station fund drives. Because I’ve spoken out, loudly to station staff, about management failures at KPFK, station management has retaliated against me and fired me. The reason I was fired was as retaliation for my blowing the whistle on broad and consistent failures of management that have allowed an unhealthy climate to take root.
In brief, late last year I was awarded a teaching fellowship from Stanford University. I conferred with station management, and was allowed to take a four month unpaid leave of absence to teach at Stanford from January through May of this year. While teaching there, at my own expense, I traveled back to Los Angeles every Friday to continue hosting Beneath the Surface one day a week and to keep continuity during my unpaid leave.
In mid-March an article was published in the Jewish Journal. KPFK Staffers sent out information about the article on March 20, which was the first time I was aware of the article. Briefly (read article above) the article was about anti-Semitism that had been occurring on KPFK’s airways. There was tremendous staff concern, and commitment to taking some action to address the problem. This was initially manifest in emails that were being exchanged by the staff, which were also CC’ ed to station management. There was, appropriately, condemnation about the anti-Semitic comments made on a KPFK show. I wrote an email to staff and station management (see below), that made clear that the problem had as much to do with management as it did with the individual show.
From: “Jerry Quickley”
Date: Fri, 20 Mar 2009 13:48:13 -0700
To: Station Management and Staff
Subject: RE: KPFK in the Press
I read the article in the Jewish Journal and found the tone to be reasonable and measured. I haven’t checked the archives, but if the claims and quotes made by the article are accurate it begs a serious question: Why did it take an outside article to bring this to the attention of the programming department? How is it that there’s such a gross disconnect between programming and the Program Director, that the PD has no idea whatsoever that these many many transgressions have been occurring - not over a single day or even a few weeks - but have been occurring for many months and possibly years? How is it that the Program Director apparently lacked the foresight, wherewith all, or basic managerial diligence to have established and made known effective protocols, reviews, or insights that would’ve minimally made himself aware of this serious issue?
The issues raised in the article point not just to the clear and obvious problems (again - if accurately quoted) that have occurred with the show, but rather point to a problem with how the show has been managed, or more accurately how the show has not been managed, listened to, reviewed, or seemingly had anything meaningful occur as to connection between the Program Director and the show. These sad and deeply offensive occurrences cannot possibly be described by any stretch, as an example of what a stellar job is being accomplished by our Programming Department. When a show fails this broadly and consistently at the Pacifica Mission, it is a failing of the manager who’s supposed to be contributing to and helping to oversee that mission.
I care deeply about KPFK and Pacifica and it’s disingenuous to point a finger at the problem without a sober assessment of what has facilitated the problem. The source issue isn’t the show itself.
Beneath the Surface
Just about an hour after I sent out the email above, the station’s general manager sent out an email to all staff telling us to not go out “on the offensive”. The next month I was scheduled to end my unpaid leave of absence and return to work. Instead the station General Manager, Sean Heitkemper, informed me that I was being fired. I was beyond shocked. It was clear to me that I was being retaliated against for having spoken out to staff and management about the article that was published in the Jewish Journal, in addition to my many other complaints that I’d made to station management and the union (AFTRA) about issues of racism and discrimination at KPFK that are endemic in two regards, the persistence of those issues, and management’s persistent refusal to address any of my complaints.
I was being made an example of what happens if you’re perceived as having spoken out against management. My firing was designed to have a chilling effect on employee speech at the station should any employee ask obvious questions such as ‘how could station management have allowed transgressions like this to have occurred over such an extended period, and what plans are being developed to put some form of review or oversight or reporting mechanisms in place’
I was fired only after I’d spoken out about significant and ongoing problems with station management, and just one week before I was due to return to my former staff position. While clearly the goal was to silence me and other staff from speaking out, the station has in effect achieved the opposite. For seven years I have assiduously avoided publicly discussing significant internal problems at KPFK and how those problems impact programming and help to foster and create division, dysfunction, and discrimination. For years I have made extraordinary efforts to address those issues and create necessary and just changes from within the organization itself. I do now however feel relatively unrestrained in both the need to publicly address these issues, and as to the clarity with which these issues need to be addressed.
If you’re interested you’re encouraged to leave comments here or send email.
KPFK email addresses: Sean@kpfk.org
- General Manager - Sean Heitkemper Quick@kpfk.org
- Producer/Host - Jerry Quickley email@example.com
- Interim Executive Director Pacifica Foundation - Grace Aaron firstname.lastname@example.org
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